By Connor Steel
The final scoreline doesn’t reflect the 90 minutes as Dave Carter’s men arguably dominated in terms of possession and clear-cut opportunities. But unlike their hosts they failed to make this count as the Royals fell to their fourth loss of the Wessex League Premier in autumnal sunshine.
Similar to earlier FA Cup ties, it was a frantic start to the action with both sides trying to gain control of a midfield battle, which was ultimately won by Portchester as they took an early lead after just six minutes of play. Owen Roundell played a great pass forward that split the Blackfield defence in two, finding Lee Wort in space. The hotshot striker rounded home goalkeeper Tom Chambers and tapped into the net to seal his 15th goal of the season in all competitions since the start of August.
Taking an early lead only seemed to boost Portchester and they continued to dominate possession in the final third, which saw them nearly double their advantage after 15 minutes. Great build up play led to Jake Raine firing goal-wards, with the effort brilliantly saved by Chambers down low. The home goalkeeper continued to prevent the Royals as he denied efforts by debutants Mike Carter and Clayd Roach before the 25-minute mark to keep Blackfield & Langley in the game early on.
And these saves proved crucial as the hosts equalised on 32 minutes with their first notable foray forward, an error in midfield capitalised on by Sam Woodward and the ball was worked out into Rafa Ramos down on the left. The winger’s cross was played into the corridor of uncertainty where Sami Makhloufi was lurking to shoot into the corner past Steven Mowthorpe at his far post. In response the Royals nearly scored again within 60 seconds of the restart as Wort was played into space, but this time Chambers got down quickly to parry the powerful drive away from danger on 34 minutes.
Blackfield & Langley thought they had taken the lead moments later as the ball found Owen Fee, with the attacker converting from seven yards, only for referee Nigel Whitfield to cut short the celebrations as he pointed to the lineman’s offside flag. Undeterred, the hosts had one last big chance before the interval as Ali Zintany ran through the defence. But his low driven shot was saved by a brilliant fingertipped reflex from Mowthorpe, while Dom Panesar-Bower’s effort drifted wide of the post from 25 yards out. Portchester looked to spring a counter attack as the referee blew for the interval, with the away contingent frustrated as they felt two minutes of added time hadn’t ended with their side in a good position.
After a quiet period to start the second half in which Blackfield dominated possession, Portchester had a great chance for a second goal on 56 minutes. George Barker made a clever jinxing run inside the penalty area and fired towards goal, with his angled effort taking a huge deflection that wrongfooted the home keeper but rolled inches wide of the far post. From this corner Wort set up Adam Tomasso but the midfielder’s shot was blocked at source and cleared away to safety, a let-off for Blackfield with players waiting to take advantage for any rebound off the keeper.
Despite Portchester’s chances and attacking possession, it was actually the hosts who took the lead just after the hour mark. Patient build-up play saw the ball worked to Owen Fee, whose drive beat Mowthorpe as the ball curled into the corner for two-one. It was a goal that induced substitutions in the Royals’ ranks as Marley Ridge, Joe Briggs and Zak Sharp all entered the fray, with both new signings of Roach and Carter being replaced with 25 minutes left – changes that almost made an immediate impact in the final quarter.
Sixty-nine minutes saw the next massive chance for Portchester as the ball was played out wide to Wort in space, the striker’s angled effort beating Chambers but also whistling past the post with pace. Soon afterwards Marley Ridge shot harmlessly over the crossbar from 20 yards out and an effort from Steve Ramsey was comfortably saved by the Blackfield goalkeeper, who was fast becoming the man of the match and a beacon of frustration for the visitors. Joe Briggs was also looking dangerous as he outpaced his marker on two occasions but was unable to find his strike partners as his final balls were lacking; his efforts proving key to a moment of controversy in the 76th minute.
Passing saw the substitute winger find enough space for a shot, which looked to hit the defender’s arm on the goalline, with the referee turning down boisterous appeals from Portchester players in letting play continue. Depending on angles a penalty would have been harsh on Blackfield due to the distance and pace on the shot at close range, but another official may have no hesitations in awarding a spot kick. Frustrations threatened to boil over as Sam Pearce was sent to the sin-bin to calm down following an example of dissent in his protesting towards the man in charge. Minutes later Conor Bailey was briefly forced off with a facial injury, leaving the Royals with nine men for a short period.
Despite the two-man disadvantage, Portchester did continue to create chances in an attempt to get a deserved point, Marley Ridge firing over from close range while Wort saw a downward header saved by Chambers who performed a comfortable catch on 89 minutes. These were missed opportunities the Royals were made to rue as their hosts scored a third goal in stoppage time to seal a 3-1 lead. It was Makhloufi who got his second of the match as he fired inside the post after a cut-back fell calmly into his path to send a small crowd of 91 into relieved celebrations, with the finish being the last notable kick of play as the referee blew for the final whistle.
Losing this game means that Portchester have slipped to 12th place in the Wessex League Premier with two tough away games over the coming week. The Royals will now play Baffins Milton Rovers on Wednesday night in a local derby at PMC Stadium before making a visit across the Channel for an away trip versus Cowes Sport on November 6. Portchester will then return to the On-Site Group Stadium for their rearranged Russell Cotes encounter against Infinity, having beaten the same opponents 6-0 back in September.
PICTURED BY DANIEL HASWELL: Portchester playing Blackfield & Langley in early September 2021